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Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson in London​ on Prime Minister's ongoing visit to U​K (​November 12, 2015)

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vikas Swarup): Good evening friends and welcome to this press briefing on Prime Minister’s first day in the UK. I apologise for this delay in commencing this press conference for the simple reason that we had to return from the Guild Hall without any escort. Prime Minister having gone to Checkers we realized the London traffic what is the reality. That is why we were delayed.

I am very happy to say that I have with me Mrs. Nandini Singla, Joint Secretary (Europe West), who will fill in the gaps on what I will brief you on the Prime Minister’s first day of engagements.

As you know, Prime Minister arrived here today at 10 a.m. and he had really a full day of engagements including talks with Prime Minister Cameron at 10 Downing Street, a historic address to the British Parliament - he became the first Indian Prime Minister to address the British Parliament - and a speech to the business community of the city of London at Guild Hall. The two leaders also paid homage to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi near Parliament Square.

Prime Minister’s engagements began with a meeting with the Punjabi community in the UK. There were about 34 prominent community members representing all the important Gurudwaras in the UK.

After that, there was a Guard of Honour and official welcome by Prime Minister of UK. Delegation-level talks were held in 10 Downing Street covering a whole host of areas in which the India-UK partnership now operates. Given the fact that this is now an 11 years old strategic partnership, discussions between the two leaders also touched upon security, defence, cyber cooperation, technological and military-to-military cooperation. Countering terrorism was also an important facet of the bilateral discussions. And climate change also figured prominently in light of the forthcoming COP21 in Paris. One significant outcome of today’s discussions was the conclusion of a civil nuclear agreement between India and the UK.

On the trade and economic side, the leaders discussed how the UK could partner India in its flagship initiatives like Make in India, Clean India, Smart Cities, Skills India and Digital India.

A central outcome of the discussions was the desire on the both sides to collaborate in leveraging the city of London as a global financial hub for raising infrastructure financing for India’s ambitious infrastructure projects.

Both leaders welcomed the historic launch of government-supported, rupee-denominated bonds for the railways sector, and bonds launched by leading Indian private sector players. They underlined that this could be the start of a long partnership in this direction. Another important outcome was the setting up of a new India-UK fund under India’s new National Infrastructure Investment Fund.

In his discussions with Prime Minister Cameron and his address to the city of London, Prime Minister Modi underlined the Government’s strong commitment to continue economic reforms to attract foreign direct investment, and elaborated upon the recent slew of significant liberalization initiatives which have made India the most open economy in the world. As you are aware, the CEOs’ Forum is also meeting tomorrow and a whole host of business-to-business deals were finalized today amounting to over 9.2 billion pounds.

As we speak, Prime Minister is in Checkers for an intimate dinner and continued discussions on regional and global strategic issues with Prime Minister Cameron in his countryside residence.

To sum up, the first day of the visit has been very successful and productive. We look forward to Day-2 which, as you know, will feature the India-UK CEOs’ Forum, there will be a lunch hosted by Her Majesty the Queen for Prime Minister in a very special gesture, and of course there will be the big diaspora event at Wembley where Prime Minister Cameron will also be present.

A total of five outcome documents and 11 MoUs were finalized today. I will just give you some idea of what these documents are. The first is a vision document outlining the shared vision of both leaders for elevating the strategic partnership going forward.

The second is a Joint Statement elaborating upon the diverse and multifaceted partnership and initiatives being taken to deepen it in a range of areas from economic development and finance to business, education, skills, health, science and technology, and culture. There is an annex to the Joint Statement which gives details of 28 commercial business-to-business agreements signed during the visit.

There has been the announcement of a Defence and International Security Partnership to deepen India-UK defence collaboration through capability partnerships in strategic areas including research, training, transfer of defence technologies and defence manufacturing in areas of mutual interest through Make in India. It also contains a strong counterterrorism component. In fact, I think it is important that I read out to you the portions from that statement covering counterterrorism.

"India and the UK stand united against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and support the early finalization of a Comprehensive Convention of International Terrorism. They will continue to work together to disrupt all financial and tactical support for terrorist networks including ISIL, Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, the Haqqanis, and the associated groups. The two countries reiterate their call for Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice. The UK and India will continue to work together to prevent terrorist attacks and counter violent extremism including through the exchange of best practices and technologies. Both countries will work together to drive forward international efforts to counter extremism and the ideology that underpins it. They will work through the UN and the Global Counterterrorism Forum to support action by governments to implement effective national strategies in partnership with communities, civil society and industry.” And then it also goes on to touch upon cyber, serious and organised crime and maritime.

All these documents are now available on the MEA website. You can download them. As I said, once you have those documents, then you will have a complete picture of what all has transpired today, the significant outcomes that have emerged from Prime Minister’s first day in the UK and of course what we can expect tomorrow and the day after.

With that I think I will stop here. Nandini, you want to add something? Okay, we can then open it up for the Q & A now.

Question: I wonder if you could elaborate a little about the discussions he had with the Punjabi groups, the Gurudwaras, what were their requests, demands.

Official Spokesperson: As you know, they have certain issues pertaining to their visits to India and things like that. And Prime Minister said very categorically, he said, look, India is your country and you have every right to seek what you want from India, and we will be happy to have a comprehensive dialogue in a spirit of free and frank exchange, and whatever we can do to assist you, we will do that. So, my sense is that there will be probably a visit. My assumption is that these discussions will continue.

Question: Will there be a visit?

Official Spokesperson: There may be a visit, as I said.

Question: In that case, is there any talk about what happened in Punjab recently regarding the sacrilege of holy scriptures …(Inaudible)…?

Official Spokesperson: I do not think this was really in that context. The idea was that there is a Punjabi community here and it has certain issues, and the idea was how can the two sides sit together and try to resolve those issues in a spirit of reconciliation and dialogue.

Question: Has the Prime Minister raised the issue of student visas and other visa issues particularly limitations on the ability of a student to work?

Official Spokesperson: Yes, this was raised very strongly. Prime Minister said that the number of Indian students in the UK has fallen by 50 per cent in the last three years; he urged that Indian students are among the best and the brightest in the world; and it would be a win-win partnership for both sides - Indians needing quality education and the UK benefiting from the expertise that Indian students bring to the UK.

Joint Secretary (Europe West) (Ms. Nandini Singla): If I may add, the Prime Minister actually said that we are right now in a situation where countries are actually wooing Indian students because India is the biggest education market today. There is a bourgeoning middle class, there is an aspirational upper class that wants to educate its kids abroad; and he said it is an opportunity to actually tap into what has become a big economic market.

Question: Did he receive a response for that?

Joint Secretary (Europe West): There was a lot of understanding and appreciation, but this is an issue that is a matter for continued discussion. I do not think we closed the chapter on this.

Question: Was the British Home Secretary in the meeting?

Joint Secretary (Europe West): To my understanding, no.

Question: …(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: Anyway, the Prime Minister was there. So, as far as we are concerned, the top man was there.

Question: Could you detail the scope and the terms of the civil nuclear agreement? Is this for supply, is this for building plants, the expertise of British companies coming into India, or is this uranium supply? Could you detail on that please?

Joint Secretary (Europe West): I think all the agreements, the texts also would be out soon. So you can see the details for yourself. But broadly what I understand is it is a full chain agreement, that is the whole chain of the nuclear circle. And it includes research, it includes exchange of best practices especially in areas like decommissioning where the UK has superior technologies. And I think the context is far more important in a sense because the UK is now commissioning a new nuclear plant. It is once again going in the direction of clean nuclear energy. So, this opens up a whole world of opportunities for collaboration for both countries.

Question: My question to you, Sir, was to explain the components of the inbound investments that you just put out as a number of around 9.5 billion pounds. Slightly unusual from previous visits where for the first time perhaps a specific number being mentioned in business terms. Is there a breakup that you could offer us? And, are these firm commitments or are these ongoing projects which have been collated as inbound British investments into India, Madam?

Joint Secretary (Europe West): You will be delighted to know that the full list is on the website. It is an annex to the Joint Statement. It has all the details, all the details that the companies are willing to share.

Official Spokesperson: Just to highlight a few, there is this agreement between the India-UK Institute of Health between the India-UK Healthcare Private Limited and Kings College Hospital. This is in the area of healthcare.

Joint Secretary (Europe West): This is NHS partnering an Indian entity in setting up a medical college or a hospital with a training component in Chandigarh. And the plan is that they will open 10 or 11 more. So, it is a chain of hospitals that they want to create.

Question: I wonder if you could just talk about Vodafone. One of those numbers was there and something else was also spoken about Vodafone in terms of the tax controversies and what India has been trying to do to settle them.

Joint Secretary (Europe West): In fact, I think Vodafone is voting with their pocket here. I think it is about 1.3 billion investment.

Question: …(Inaudible)… significant amount and the statement that we have is ‘upgrading of current network and coverage’. So, with all due respect, this is operational investment, this is not a new project that is coming up. Again in terms of scope of whether this being expanded, have they indicated whether this is new business being set up or it is just the money you spend and existing UKcompanies spend in business that they already do?

Joint Secretary (Europe West): On this I am afraid I will have to direct you to speak to Vodafone.

Official Spokesperson: Because as you know, these are not G2G, these are B2B deals. And we only have the data that has been given to us by those companies concerned.

Joint Secretary (Europe West): The simple point is that a company which sort of led a negative narrative about Indian economy and the closeness is today in the list of business contracts that were announced in front of the two Prime Ministers, to us it is a significant narrative in itself.

Question: On the nuclear deal, is there any kind of a talk of the kind of the liability terms that made conversations with the United States after a solid agreement slow down and projects pick up pace that slowed down in the United States? Were there terms that were discussed this time with the United Kingdom and said look, this will not happen with the UK? Did they go into that at all because we had headline numbers with the United States but it went kind of nowhere because of those problems with liability?

Joint Secretary (Europe West): We have just signed the agreement today. You will have to wait and see whether we have problems or not. It is a cooperation agreement and it is a signal in itself, it is several signals in fact, and it is a big positive story.

Question: Vikas, the Joint Statement talks about enhanced consultation on an entire spectrum of regional issues and there is also the proposal to set up a separate South Asia Dialogue at the level of senior officials. What triggered this mechanism, what is the scope for it? Also, I was struck by the mention of corruption in the Joint Statement, Para No.32, where it says, ‘... to strengthen global response to corruption’. Very unusual for corruption to figure in a Joint Statement! Just wondering what is the provocation for that?

Joint Secretary (Europe West): I will begin with your second question first. If you look at Para 32, it is in the context of the UN and the G20. The corruption is an agenda item that we are not only discussing we are also working actively upon. It is in that context.

Your other question was about the South Asia Dialogue. We already have a Middle East Dialogue with the UK; we also have an East Asia Dialogue with the UK. And we felt that it was only logical and certainly much required that we also have a South Asia Dialogue. Although this dialogue does happen, in all our conversations invariably our neighbourhood figures and we do have a conversation, we thought it is good to actually institutionalise and have a formal dialogue. That is the background.

Question: …(Inaudible)…

Joint Secretary (Europe West): We have a Defence and International Security Partnership document. It is actually the announcement of an international security partnership and defence partnership, it is a big step forward. Let me just make sure that I am giving you the correct information.

It talks about the whole range of defence cooperation actually from research to manufacturing, to Make in India, to tech transfer and training. So it actually encompasses everything. And it includes deals that are under process but which are really a procedural issue. We cannot really announce something just because we are having a statement.

Question: Could you just explain the Rupee bond? I am not very clear about it, the UK supporting Rupee bond?

Official Spokesperson: Basically, now in the city of London, the bonds will now be issued in rupee denomination because this way you do not have to hedge against the currency fluctuation.

Joint Secretary (Europe West): And it is the first time that a Rupee bond is being issued at the London Stock Exchange in the city of London and I believe the RBI has only authorised it in April this year.

Question: So, this bond is going to be bought here.

Official Spokesperson: Correct.

Joint Secretary (Europe West): Listed here on the London Stock Exchange. And it is in the railways sector.

Official Spokesperson: Indian Railway Financial Corporation (IRFC).

Joint Secretary (Europe West): It is actually a government-supported bond. There are many private companies which have also done it - I think HDFC, Bharti Airtel, Yes Bank. So, there is the government component to it but there is also a private sector component to it.

Question: On a lighter vein, just give us some insights into what has been happening on a one-to-one. What does Mr. Modi want to eat when he goes to Checkers? He is not having a fry-up I suppose.

Official Spokesperson: I am not in Checkers, so, I am sorry I cannot tell you anything about it.

Joint Secretary (Europe West): He is having a vegetarian meal.

Question: I mean, what is he being served in a vegetarian meal?

Official Spokesperson: But if you look at what all has been happening today, how the iconic buildings of London were lit up in the Indian tricolour, we had the flypast by the Royal Air Force, I think there was a lot of symbolism also attached to this visit apart from the substance which we have already briefed you on. But I think just the fact that there is this unique bond between India and the UK and that is manifested in so many linkages that we have, not least of course the 1.5 million Indian diaspora in the UK and the fact that Prime Minister Cameron really values this special and unique bond that India and the UK share with each other whether it is cricket, and the Prime Minister alluded to a number of those bonds in his address to the Parliament today.

Joint Secretary (Europe West): If I may just add, the flypast that happened today is the first such flypast in the sense that the first ever British flypast without the colours of the British flag. It is the first time a flypast has been done for any foreign country. There are these little special gestures that underline the importance attached to this relationship.

Question: It is in Para 58 of that Joint Statement where it says, ‘ ... to increase cooperation to target criminals across borders’. Does that also include any references to Dawood Ibrahim? There were talks about how he has assets in UK as well that the Indian Government might want the UK to act upon.

And, in terms of the business agreements, while you say that it is a 9.2 billion pound of figures, a lot of it seems to be future projections based on a lot of circumstances. Like you say FDI has opened up in India but companies like Aviva, Bupa subject to getting regulatory clearances will come in with this amount of money. There is another paragraph that says that the global supply chains by CII. There are future projections of two plus some billion happening. So, are the realistic figures kind of much lesser than 9.2 billion pounds?

Joint Secretary (Europe West): We have never said that these all have already happened. What we have said is these announcements amounting to 9.2 billion pounds. And this is the nature of all such announcements. I cannot really undertake that two businesses will actually do it. Things may change; things may not happen, or they may even augment the investment. But it declares a sense of intent, of purpose. They want to do it, there is an interest in doing it, they see India as a fertile economy for foreign investments. That is the reason it is attached to the Joint Statement.

Official Spokesperson: And as I said, specific individuals were not discussed but the idea of this Joint Statement is to create that umbrella framework under which this kind of a security cooperation can continue.

Question: During the visit to France, the Prime Minister and this Government signalled a very significant change of moving defence purchases to a government-to-government format from directly negotiating with a manufacturer. Are negotiations and any defence cooperation other than those that are strategic, any commercial negotiations also on a government-to-government basis, or is that old model being followed? I just wanted to understand whether that France model is being followed for British companies that the British Government will talk to for India.

Joint Secretary (Europe West): Not to my understanding. If you look at the agreement on the new Defence and International Security Partnership, we have certainly spoken about Government supporting greater collaboration, supporting an enhanced India-UK partnership. It does not specifically refer to a G2G format.

Official Spokesperson: But neither does it preclude it.

Joint Secretary (Europe West): And it is the two governments talking.

Official Spokesperson: Exactly.

Question: Just on the other side, were there any concerns or issues that Prime Minister Cameron raised with Mr. Modi, anything in terms of the economy or even otherwise, the general atmosphere of intolerance because there was a letter that was open that was addressed to him?

Official Spokesperson: No, this issue came up, as you know, during the press conference. Prime Minister has already said what he had to say. We have no further comment on this.

There being no other questions, I think we bring this press conference to a close. Thank you all.

Nov 13, 2015
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